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What is Burns Night?

What is Burn’s Night? Traditions, Speeches and Food


Source: https://interestingliterature.com

Burns Night is celebrated in Scotland and by many Scots around the globe on or around 25th January. It commemorates the life of the national bard Robert Burns, who was born on 25th January 1759, and also celebrates his contribution to Scottish culture.


Rob Burns’ most popular work is arguably Auld Lang Syne, which is sung at New Year's Eve celebrations in Scotland, parts of the United Kingdom and far beyond, when the clock strikes midnight.


Burns Night started shortly after the poet’s death, when his friends celebrated his life and career in Ayrshire, Scotland, in the late 1700s on the date of his death, 21st July; then changing to that of his birth.



Burns night supper set
Malt Whisky cakes

The Order of the Supper

Traditionally, there is a set order is which the Burn’s Night supper is presented.

  • Piping in the guests
  • A piper generally greets the guests, who gather and mix as at any informal party. At less formal gatherings traditional Scottish music is played.
  • The Host’s welcoming speech
  • Usually the host will say a few words, welcoming their guests to the supper. Traditionally a Selkirk Grace is said, a well-known thanksgiving spoken before meals, in Scots. Although attributed to Burns, the Selkirk Grace was already known in the 17th century, as the "Galloway Grace" or the "Covenanters' Grace". It came to be called the Selkirk Grace because Burns was said to have delivered it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk.
  • The Soup Course
  • The supper begins with a soup course, normally a Scottish soup such as Scotch broth, potato soup, cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie is served.
  • The Haggis
  • Everyone stands as the haggis is brought in. It is usually brought in by the cook on a large dish, generally while a piper plays bagpipes and leads the way to the host's table, where the haggis is laid down. They might play "A Man's A Man for A' That", "Robbie Burns Medley" or "The Star O' Robbie Burns". The host, or perhaps a guest, then recites the Address to a Haggis.
  • The Main course
  • At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be planned before the haggis. The guests will sit down to the meal. The haggis is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnips (neeps).
  • The Dessert Course
  • For dessert many people will serve up cranachan (a mixture of whipped cream, whisky, honey and fresh raspberries, with toasted oatmeal) or Tipsy Laird (whisky trifle) followed by oatcakes and cheese.
  • Burn’s Night Speeches
  • When the meal reaches the coffee stage, a set of speeches are made in the following order.
  • Immortal memory
  • The main speaker will give a speech, remembering some aspect of Burns' life or poetry. This may be light-hearted or serious and may include the reading of a poem or song by Burns. A toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns then follows.
  • Address to the Lassies
  • This was originally a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to the women who had prepared the meal. However, nowadays it is much more wide-ranging and generally covers the male speaker's view on women. It is normally amusing but not offensive, particularly bearing in mind that it will be followed by a reply from the "lassies" concerned. The men drink a toast to the women's health.
  • Reply to the Laddies
  • This is occasionally (and humorously) called the "Toast to the Laddies" and, like the previous toast, it is generally quite wide-ranging nowadays. A female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker. Like the previous speech, this should be amusing, but not offensive. Quite often the speakers giving this toast and the previous one will collaborate so that the two toasts complement each other.
  • The works by Robert Burns
  • After the speeches are over, usually some of Burn’s songs are sung, including Ae Fond Kiss, Parcel o' Rogues, A Man's a Man, etc. – and more poetry – To a Mouse, To a Louse, Tam o' Shanter, The Twa Dugs, Holy Willie's Prayer, etc. This may be done by the individual guests or by invited experts.
  • Closing the Burns Night Supper
  • Finally the host will call on one of the guests to give the vote of thanks, after which everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne bringing the evening to an end.


How will you be celebrating the life of the Scottish Bard, Robert Burns, on the 25th January? Share your celebrations with us on our Facebook page. If you are interested in finding out more about Burn’s Night Traditions and the life of Rob Burns, you can read more here.
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